For the first time since the mid-to-late 1990s, the Cleveland Indians have delivered back-to-back winning seasons. They over-delivered despite not having many – if any, at all – household names on their roster.
Last season, Cy Young winner Corey Kluber solidified himself as one of the game’s most exciting arms. Yet, with just 70 big league starts under his belt, the Klubot is hardly recognizable outside of Cleveland. Even Michael Brantley, who pushed Mike Trout for the AL MVP, has not yet reached superstar status.
The Indians have been used to flying under the radar and exceeding low expectations. They have a small payroll, struggle with low attendance rates and most non-baseball fanatics couldn’t name a player on the current roster.
This season, however, expectations are through the roof (see: Sports Illustrated’s World Series prediction) and Cleveland must deliver.
What can be expected from the 2015 Indians? Here are five bold predictions:
(1) Jason Kipnis will lead the team in batting average
Jason Kipnis regressed significantly last year. There’s no two ways about it. His average was down; his power was down; his stolen bases were down; and his defense was well below average. But if Kipnis has shown anything over his first few seasons in Cleveland, it’s that he is a fiery competitor. He will bounce back in 2015 and lead the team in batting average out of the No. 2 spot. When healthy, Kipnis is the most dynamic player on this Indians’ roster, as he brings speed, power and the ability to hit for a high average. (Yes, Brantley is still in the lineup. I didn’t forget about him.) The looming arrival of Francisco Lindor impact Kipnis, just as it does Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis could very well be playing for his position this season, so expect him to respond in a big way.
(2) Michael Bourn will steal 30 or more bases
The Cleveland Indians acquired center fielder Michael Bourn, who was coming off a 42-steal season with the Atlanta Braves, in a somewhat surprising offseason move back in 2013. The Tribe signed him to a four-year deal with the intent to add speed – and a base-stealing threat – to the top of the their lineup. Since then, Bourn has been surprisingly unproductive, as he has struggled through a number of leg injuries. He has stolen just 33 bases in two seasons but, after working with former Olympian Leroy Burrell this offseason, Bourn looks quicker than he has looked since joining the team. He is hitting .400 this spring and, should he continue his hot-hitting, he will be on base with more opportunities to steal bases. While he has yet to steal a base this spring, Terry Francona says he’s saving his legs for the regular season.
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(3) Danny Salazar will win more than 8 games
Despite today’s news that Danny Salazar has been demoted to Triple-A Columbus, the Indians still expect their hard-throwing righty to help them this season. While Zach McAllister or Josh Tomlin figure to start the season at the back of the rotation, expect Salazar to find himself in short time with the Clippers. He is a notorious slow-starter but, by the time manager Francona really needs a reliable starter to pencil in every five days, Salazar will be ready for the call.
(4) Carlos Santana will hit 30 home runs…
Carlos Santana finally has the benefit of enjoying an offseason without uncertainty. After bouncing around behind third base, first base and designated hitter early last season, Santana finally found a permanent home at first. When the dust settled, Santana put together a productive second half for Cleveland, hitting .260 with 13 home runs. Account for the added protection of Brandon Moss batting behind him and Santana is due for a monster year out of the clean-up spot.
(5) …and that will only be good for second-best on the team
Thirty home runs is no small feat. Santana hasn’t done it before in his career. But his first 30-homer season will not be best on the team, as the top spot will go to Brandon Moss. Moss 25 home runs last season despite playing in one of the least hitter-friendly parks in the league for 81 games per season. The 325-foot short porch in right field at Progressive Field should turn a number of Moss’s deep fly balls into round-trippers this season. Expect closer to 35 homers for the left-handed outfielder.
Do you agree? Disagree? Use the comments section below to make your bold predictions.